(Tel Aviv) December 29, 2002
Senator Joseph Lieberman made his final appearance in the middle east in a small press briefing that occurred near the US embassy in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, December 29, 2002.
The Senator had just returned from a visit to three Gulf states – Bahrain, Quatar and Saudi Arabia after an initial meetings in Israel and inside the Palestinian Authority.
Lieberman’s opening remarks at the briefing addressed the morale of the US troops that he had just visited, and the determination of the US military “to do what needs to done”. Liebeman declared that he hopes “that the US can finish the job with Saddam this time”, and repeated his long standing position that the US should have finished off Saddam at the time of the Gulf War more than a decade ago, and that it was a mistake to have left Saddam in power.
I asked three questions of Senator Lieberman:
- What is your reaction to the daily drumbeat of support for Iraq that we have been hearing in the official media of the PA?
- What is your response to the PA endorsement of the murders that occurred this past of four yeshiva students this past Shabbat in Otniel.
- What is your response to the continued Saudi support for terrorism against Israel?
In response to the first question, Lieberman said that “Palestinian support for the Iraqi cause can only hurt the Palestinian cause in the US”, saying that that the US had not forgotten the Palestinian support for the Iraqis in the gulf war 12 years ago, and that the US had not forgotten how some Palestinians demonstrated against the US on September 11 2001.
In response to the second question Lieberman went on to say that “We support two state solution. This cannot occur until and unless terrorism ceases, and that “I would think that the PA must first stop terrorism. The one glimmer of hope was the level of hope that I found on my visit to Ramallah was the level of enthusiasm for the talks with the Hamas.which might result in at least a partial cease fire”.
When I pointed out to Lieberman that the Hamas-Fateh talks in Cairo would allow for terrorism to continue in all areas beyond the 1967 armistice line in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Lieberman quickly said that “All terror must stop, and that what we have not seen is a full fledged effort from the PA to stop the terrorism ” He then repeated his reading of a “spirit of hope” in the Fateh-Hamas talks, “even if that would result in a partial ceasefire”
A “partial cease fire” would mean the continued murder of Jews, yet Lieberman reiterated that he saw the Fateh-Hamas talks as a “glimmer of hope” at “a moment of despair”. It was clear that Lieberman did not view the Cairo talks as a meeting of terrorist groups who were coordinating their next terror activities against the state and people of Israel
On the Saudi question, Lieberman chose to look at what the Saudis are doing to stop terror aginst the US, not what the Saudis are doing to stop terror against Israel. Lieberman noted that “there is a civil war inside the Islamic world, between the militant Islamic minority represented by Bin Laden and the rest of the Islamic world” and warned that Bin Laden intended to overthrow Saudi Arabia.
Characterizing Saudi Arabia as a “US ally”, Lieberman said that he had called upon the Saudis to address a spirit of tolerance, and mentioned that he had indeed appealed for Saudis to stop supporting terrorism. Lieberman said that he was impressed by the steps taken by the Saudis to curb their support for terror groups that operate inside and against the US. Lieberman added that ” The Saudi government did not have adequate control of funds” that were being diverted to charitable organizations in support of terror, but that he was “impressed with the Saudi plan for stopping the flow of funds to terror”, and emphasized the strong coordination of US and Saudi intelligence.
I reminded Senator Lieberman that my question was about Saudi support for terror, and that the Israeli government had provided his office in Washington with hundreds of documents that were seized from Arafat’s headquarters which proved the Saudi financing of terror against Israel.
Lieberman nodded his head and was careful to not say that Saudi Arabia would cease its support for terror against Israel.
Lieberman did say, however, that Saudi Arabia should “use its influence with groups like Hamas” to cease their terror activities against the state and people of Israel, and that ” any support coming from Saudi Arabia to terror groups would be a detriment to peace”.
Lieberman concluded that any process should be completed with “a recognition of Israel by the Arab states”. Yet it was clear from Lieberman’s remarks that neither the US government nor he as a US Senator would make any real demands that Saudi Arabia, defined by Lieberman as a “US ally”, would cease and desist from financing terrorism against the Jewish state.
There were more questions that I would have asked Lieberman had he not stopped his press conference in order to make one more engagement before flying back to the US.
Those questions would have been:
- You were quoted as favoring the Saudi plan for peace. Are you aware of the fact that the Saudi Peace Plan endorses the “right of return” for 3.6 million Arab refugees to return to their “homes” from 1948 that have been replaced by Israeli cities, collective farms and woodlands You were quoted as expressing deep concern over the humanitarian conditions in the Arab villages and cities. Have you reviewed the well documented reports that show how the Palestinian Authority has plundered the humanitarian assistance offered to the PA?
- You mentioned this evening that US is pushing for democratic reforms inside the PA. What is your reaction to the fact that Arafat has placed 200 of his critics on death row and that the US will say nothing to stop him from murdering his opponents?
- You were quoted as favoring a limitation on settlement expansion. The US state department spokespeople have indicated that they want Israel to halt building projects in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, calling that an illegal settlement. Do you concur in that assessment?
- You were quoted as saying that the Palestinian Arab terrorists do not act on the basis of public support. Has your staff not shown you that consistent Palestinian Arab public opinion polls show that more than 75% of the Palestinian population favors murder attacks against Jews? Have you seen the study released today from the National Security Council of Israeli intelligence which details the extent to which the terrorists do indeed receive aid from the local population.
- This evening, you were quoted as favoring a democratic Palestinian state that would emerge from this process. Is there any sign of democracy in such a state?
- This evening, you again gave strong endorsement to the idea of an independent Palestinian Arab state. Have you considered the implications of the fact that the PA, which is the embryo of that state, has provided honorary asylum to anyone who will murder a Jew?
- Concerning Saudi Arabia, what will happen if the Saudis continue to Assert their right to support Arab terrorism against Israel. Will that affect the US-Saudi relationship in any way or your view of that relationship?